How could he even think such a thing'.?
Is not the fact that such a base thought could enter his mind at all in itself enough to make him guilty? Surabhi's veins were even now absorbing the blood from the bottle drop by drop, dripping through a tube into her body. The oxygen mask on her face was continuously supplying her body with oxygen. Oxygen..! Which somehow was maintaining Surabhi's breathing? But Naren!... Naren felt as if some unknown power was squeezing his throat together'his voice seemed choked and stuck to his palate. His tongue was unable to carry the weight of the sound. How on earth could such a depraved thought come to his mind? Now there is no reason at all left for him to stay alive!
'Naren, I have brought you radish parathas today. I, myself, made them for you.' Surabhi's voice was spreading fragrance around her.
'Won't you bring a bit more food for lunch?...I keep eating all that you bring and then you have to each chhole and bhature from the market.'
'But do you know how much pleasure it gives me to see you eat it all?...If I bring more, my mother is bound to ask for whom am I taking it'.I can't tell lies.'
'Do you really love me so much?'
'Didn't I say I can't tell lies?' Surabhi's peal of laughter sounded like a symphony.
Surabhi opened her eyes'she could still recognise Naren. She felt a need to urinate. Immersed in his guilt feelings, Naren quickly brought the commode, helped Surabhi with it and then wiped her clean with cotton wool.
A single tear rolled out of Surabhi's sick eyes and soaked into her pillow. The cancer had first taken hold in her body five years ago, but during the last two years she had become more and more tied to her bed. She could not even turn over without the fear of her bones cracking and crumbling. But if she was lying still without moving, she always had this constant pain in her back. Bone metastasis!....How romantic the name sounds'and what a terrible disease!
'My mother wants to see you.'
'Didn't you say she's in the hospital?'
'Yes, she had a very big tumour in her stomach. She's had a major operation. One day'I mentioned you when I visited her. At first, she became angry, but then she said, 'Bring him here; I want to see this jewel for myself in whom my daughter takes so much delight!'
'Let me tell you something, Surabhi. If your mother accepts me, then you won't have to eat chhole and bhature anymore!'
'Lucky me! How come?'
'My dear tube light!...Because you will then be able to tell her for whose lunch you need to take extra food.' Surabhi laughed; the perfect row of her beautiful teeth always reminded of a toothpaste advertisement.
Even this long illness had not affected Surbhi's teeth'and till only two months ago when Surbhi would sit at home and talk to somebody on the phone and they heard her voice they would not believe that she was really ill' but now during the last three weeks just this'the hospital bed, the bottle with blood and the oxygen cylinder!
'Tell me son, where do you work?'
'Well, do you see that fan up there on the ceiling? I am a sales officer in that company.'
'And how much do they pay you?'
'Eight hundred and fifty rupees'.mind you, there are no extras on top of that, Maa ji'I get eight hundred and fifty per month and that's it'.actually Saru thinks she can run a home on that amount.'
Surabhi's mother frowned, 'And'do you smoke or drink?'
'So far I don't, Maa ji. God alone knows about the future.'
'Surabhi tells me you are an only son?'
'Yes, but I have a sister, an older one'She is already married and has two sons.'
Naren could not tell from the expressions on Maa ji's face whether the interview had been a success or he had been rejected. But a few days later enough lunch for both of them had begun to arrive in Surabhi's lunch box.
Surabhi said something. It was only a whisper. Naren's feeling of guilt deepened'. Once this voice used lend sweetness to the ghazals of Daagh and Ghalib. Now not even a whisper would emerge from it without great diffuculty. Naren and Surabhi used to squabble over film songs. Naren's favourite lyricist was Shailendra and the music director duo of Shankar Jaikishan would infuse life into those lyrics, whereas Surabhi liked the lyrics of Shakeel. 'The way Shakeel writes about love, beauty and pain, no other film lyricist can attain those heights. And add to that the music of Naushad' It is as if they are made for each other.'
'Jaipur is no place for honeymoon!
'From there, we could go to Mount Abu as well.'
'But why Jaipur, in the first place?'
'Saru, I don't know why, but whenever I go to the Amer Fort, I feel as if I had been there before. You must go there with me and see that place. People come all the way from England and America to see that palace.'
'But not on their honeymoon' For honeymoon everybody goes to a hill station.'
'Then why don't we go to Mount Abu first' then on the way back we will go to Jaipur.'
'No, we'll go to Jaipur first.'
Surabhi would agree with everything Naren said. She never tried to impose her will on Naren. In Jaipur they met an English couple who were actually spending their honeymoon there. They were staying in the same hotel as Naren and Surabhi. The moment the English girl saw them, 'a made for each other couple' escaped her lips.
The nurse has come in. Dusky complexioned dressed in light blue uniform. Usually nurses wear white uniform. Perhaps the hospital authorities consider white as a symbol of mourning. Or there could be some other reason. Either way the nurses in this hospital wear blue uniform. Naren kept looking at the nurse. It occurred to him to step forward and plant a passionate kiss on the nurse's full lips. Another shameless thought'even before he had been able to shake off the guilt feelings about the first one. Why is his mind so unbridled today?
Unaware of Naren's thoughts, the nurse took Surabhi's pulse and wrote it into the file. She checked the blood drip. Surabhi's eyes opened. The nurse smiled, 'How are you feeling today? .. Did you sleep well in the night?' A smile-like line appeared on Surabhi's sick face, too'her eyes looked like saying that she was now waiting for the final sleep'The oxygen cylinder and the blood drip had made her realize that the moment of final truth was not far away. Only last night she had whispered into Naren's ears, 'Have the car papers transferred in your name.' She had always been very attentive to all domestic matters.
'Why did you leave that drawer open' You always leave the cupboards open as well'When do you ever find anything you've put away without a major search!...You'll miss me when I'm no longer there!.. Three days ago you had brought these old newspapers and put them into the sitting room and they are still sitting there. When are you going to go and sell them'what do we have this showpiece decorating the sitting room for!'
Surabhi likes the house to be all tidy and neat. Many times she has asked Naren to throw all those useless papers out' But Naren is not capable of arranging his life according to any systematic order. He is not even sure about which of papers are just waste and which ones are useful' but then in the view of the editors of all the journals and magazines, all of Naren's writings are rubbish' that is why everything that he sends for publication is either returned to him or ends up in the waste paper basket' Naren has been writing for so many years' not one of his writings have been printed anywhere in any magazine' and it is quite a different matter that he regards himself both a poet and a storywriter.
'Would you just leave for a short while' I want to sponge the patient down.' The nurse's voice brought Naren back to the world of reality. It is now over a month since
Surabhi has been able to get up and go to the bathroom'Now she has to be washed with
a sponge' Surabhi is averse to the smell of dettol' The nurse knows that' She has added some eu de cologne to the water she is using for the sponge' Surabhi wants to say something to Naren' Naren puts his ears to Surabhi's lips' The soft sound of a kiss reaches his ear'Surabhi's eyes are moist again'Naen,s guilt feelings deepen further.
'Can you still love me now my breast is cut off?' Five years ago Surabi used to be forthright about her cancer and her removed breast. Naren had tired several times to explain to her that one breast would do just fine for him'and he had felt as if he was perhaps trying to convince himself more than Surabhi'A few times it had occurred dto him that he might even write a story about Surabhi's illness' but he had not been able to work out where to begin. There were actually several things about his writing that he did not understand. Why was it that not even one of his works could be published? This question constantly confronts him and he gets puzzled all the more.
Nor could he understand why it was that with Surabhi nearing death he was actually sitting all lone.
'Although it is true that Surabhi has such an attractive personality that a constant stream of friends is coming to the hospital to see her. But friends are still outsiders' where are her own people, Surabhi's mother and father, brothers and sisters, her in-laws, where are they all?...
'I have talked to my mother.'
'And was the a special move? Doesn't every daughter talk to her mother?'
'Dpm't make fun like that' Maybe I should have expected this from my mother'but such stupidity'that she would actually speak like that'I really had not expected that.' While Surabhi spoke her eyes had filled with tears.
'Come on, what can be so bad that it will bring tears to our Saru's eyes?'
'I had said that I don't know how much longer I shall live. And if my elder brother would take charge of our children after my death'And I'd also said that you would carry all the expenses'
'So what did she say then?'
'She dashed my hopes before I could even raise them'She says, look my pet, your children are brought up differently. They can't live with us'Not even for the sake of keeping her dying daughter's illusions in tact would she pretend that se would look after my children after my death!'
'But are we not fortunate, Surabhi, that our relatives won't lie to us!'
But then Surabhi's illness is no lie either'What harsher reality could there be'Had Dr. Kurkure not announced that, 'Mr. Naren, I think you should go and get some morphine from the Tata hospital'your wife needs it!'
'What does that mean Dr. Kurkure?...How much time are you giving her?'
'I think you should expect no more than a month.' Naren slammed the brakes on his second-hand Maruti down with sudden force. If the driver of the rickshaw behind him had not been on his guards, there would have been an accident. How could the doctors deliver such news with a straight face like that?' Naren was shaken all over.
'I can understand'.Relax!'
Relax ' how!' The cancer had eroded all the bones in Surabhi's body' Her erect gait was always compared to the Saru plant.. and today she could not even stand on her own feet anymore' Every day Naren now sees the long shadow of death in Surabhi's eyes' but even today here eyes are still waiting; waiting for her mother somehow to come and be with her during her last moments' But who can have all their wishes fulfilled' Perhaps Surabhi's mind will begin to wander'will keep looking for her mother.
In Nasren, too, she was always looking for her father' so much of Naren's behaviour is just like her father's'Naren's happy temperament, his anger, his love, also his irritability, his love for sweets, his interest and pleasure in the children's education'and most of all his cheerfulness'all of these keep reminding her of her father'but what will it be that will now keep Surabhi's memory fresh in the diary of Naren's mind?
'Saru, do you write a diary as well?'
'No! not really, just a few words here and there.'
'Well! And I never knew in all these years!'
'You've got problems enough finding time to write your own poems and stories. How could you also read somebody else's writings?'
'My writing is nothing but a mirage, Surabhi' The more I hanker after having my writings published, the less likely it seems that any of it will ever appear in print'It keeps hurting me deeply all the time. My writings are simply not worth publication and this truth is more poisonous than a snake bite!'
'Why do you think like that?'and what is this hunger for publication anyway'.why don't you look at me! I have been writing since I was in higher secondary school. I've written enough stories to fill at least three books, and you only found out today?'. I feel no need to be published'I just write, and it give me satisfaction. I keep everything in a story file. I have no intention of going over them again to clean them up and polish them. What is a greater achievement than to do something that brings you peace of mind?'
'I am not as great a person as you are, Surabhi! All I can see is how many really bad poems are being printed in the newspapers and magazines. So why is it that just for my works the outcome has to be like this?'
And how piteous the outcome is for great Surabhi, too!.. She is hungry' but she has not been able to eat anything.. It makes her sick. Arun has come with a milk bottle'a baby bottle' Naren has put a little milk into it and is trying to feed it to Surabhi' And the ghost of sin perceived is looming large on his conscience' How could he have such a thought about this innocent milk 'drinking girl?
Arun has so much of affection for Surabhi'If there is anyone in this city after you whom I trust, then it is Arun!' Actually you ought to learn a few things from him' When it comes to worldly affairs it is very hard to be as successful as Arun is.'
Arun comes also to the hospital every day. And twice he even stayed the night and slept there. After all, Naren does need a break sometimes'
There is a conflict raging in Naren's mind..He is thinking, would I feel less guilty if I told Arun?
Surabhi wants to see the children. Antara is in the middle of of here tenth form exam. Apoorva is only small ' he is only in the fifth form. Surabhi's restless eyes seem to be searching for something on the wall. Sweat breaks out on Naren's forehead'Perhaps he'll expire even before Surabhi goes'Naren calls the nurse'Surabhi's pain is getting worse. Naren's ghost is growing'I must phone Arun'Can you bring the children to the hospital'.so they can see their mother. There is anger in Arun's voice, 'Why did you leave Bhabhi alone? Get back to her quick.. all these years you've spent in one literary gathering after another and never given Bhabhi any of your time, and now you can't even sit with her during her last moments!'
'You have not time at all for your home'what kind of a person are you!'Once I'm dead you can look for me all you will' You'll be left with your regrets then' She cannot control her emotions'. starts crying and sobbing bitterly. Can't you sit with me even for a little while' when you are not around; this bed feels like a bed of thorns. 'After I'm dead you can spend all your time in the service of literature.'
It was the first time Surabi had been so direct. She always spoke to him with great decorum. Now she is taking Temoxifen and God knows how many other medicines' she has had radiotherapy'chemotherapy'.fear of death is looking straight into her eyes' She hold on to Naren and wants him to sit with her all the time'Surabhi is the epitome of love'Naren is unable to understand'he can't think like Surabhi'Who says it's so easy'Who says it's easy to think like Surabhi!
And is it so easy to write so much and have nothing at all published?... Only Surabhi is capable of conquering such difficulties'Surabhi is both a good wife and a good mother, a good friend, too'and also a good writer.
Yes, Naren had secretly read all her files'without even telling her'Some of her work had even brought tears to his eyes'so much paid'where does one bring so much pain in ones writing?...And she does not want to have these writings published'She is mad'Yes, she must be mad; why else would she have married as ordinary a human being as Naren? For years Surabhi has put up with all his crudeness and follies.
Dr. Daljit Singh has always considered Naren to be guilty for Surabhi's condition. He pours out his bitterness over Naren without holding back'He had encouraged Surabhi to do research, and had been her mentor'He had even offered her the job of a lecturer in his college' But Antara was only two and a half years old at that time'Neither Naren's mother-in-law nor Surabhi's mother-in-law were prepared to look after Antara'and Naren and Surabhi did not like the idea of sending Antara to a cr'che'So in the end Surabhi had not been able to take up the post of a lecturer'According to Dr. Daljit Singh, this was the real cause of Surabhi's cancer. He did not shy away from calling Naren Surabhi's murderer.
Page 7 Sin perceived
Arun has come with Antara and Apoorva 'tearful eyes'getting ready to let go' her love for the children'.Antara is crying'Apoorva's silence'just keeps looking at his mother'Naren'Surabhi'the bottle with blood'the oxygen cylinder'the mask'Somehow they all see like Surabhi's adornments'How beautiful Surabhi looks even now' Chemotherapy'. Radiotherapy'.Temoxifen'all failed. Her eyes are looking for her mother, waiting for her brother.
'Will you agree to one thing?'
'Don't I always agree to what you say?'
'Don't get married again after I've died'Life would become hell for my children'You would be helpless'A stepmother is never more than a stepmother' She can't be a real mother'.'
'But yesterday you were saying that I should certainly get married again after you have died, so I would realise how noble-minded you are!'
'Yes, I said' precisely that is my problem. This is the first time in my life that I can't make up my mind about any matter.'
'You will get better'. Nothing will happen to you. You'll walk again just like before.'
But now she cannot even sit' let alone walk'the bed'bed'and just the bed'.For the last two years her only contact with the outside world has been through the television and the telephone.
'All day long you're glued to the phone'. Just occasionally you could give me some of your time, too.'
'Saying nothing is not going to change anything. Our children also need your time; I've thought that more than once'Often I'm so alone' You can't think of any reason for giving me company!.....but you can spend hours talking to other people'
It is Antara's exam. She has to return home quickly. Arun is saying he'll come back after dropping off the children. The thre of them leave, and Naren and Surabhi are alone in the room'Naren's ghost of guilt become active again'. Naren is restless'Surabhi's eyes are shut' Perhaps she is asleep. If something happens to Surabhi then this ghost will never leave him alone'he'll remain with him for ever.
The ghost's presence continues to disturb Naren' He will have to ask Surabhi's forgiveness for this offence'He will have to assure Surabhi that such a base thought will never enter his mind again. 'Forgive me, Surabhi!...I was thinking that if you die, I could publish all your stories and poems in my name'Forgive me'.please!'
Surabhi's head has rolled to one side and become still. She no longer needs any blood or oxygen!